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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Text by Vladimir Kozlov

Vladislav Mamychev-Monroe and
Gleb Aleinikov (left to right)
during a discussion of the "Volga Volga" film
by Andrei Seliverstov and Pavel Labazov
Cinefantom club

n the 14 years that CINE FANTOM has been around, it has become a respected film screening and discussion club, but its activities are more diverse, encompassing film project pitching sessions and production of its own films.

CINE FANTOM came into being back in the mid-1990s, when the domestic film industry was in poor shape, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and shocktherapy type economic reforms earlier in the decade. However, Russian cinema still existed, although often outside of mainstream television or cinemas.

“The original idea behind the club was that the filmmaking process in Russia is much more diverse than what can be seen on TV or in the cinemas,” says Gleb Aleinikov, one of CINE FANTOM’s founders and, in the past, a respected underground filmmaker, primarily known for films made in a creative tandem with his late brother Igor, like 1992’s Traktoristy-2.

“There were films that were shown only at film festivals, for instance, and there were films that were hardly seen by anyone at all,” Aleinikov says, adding that the club’s aim was to expose such films to audiences that would be interested in them.

“We are interested in everything that is related to Russian cinema, from blockbusters to films made by little known filmmakers, like, say, Oleg Mavromati.” Aleinikov then went on to explain the club’s mission. “Our task is not only to show films but also to give the audience and the author an opportunity to communicate with each other. And I believe that we managed to achieve this.”

“This is not just a film discussion club, but a community of people who make films themselves,” adds Andrei Selivestrov, another of CINE FANTOM’s founders and currently its programming director. “People who founded the club, like Boris Yukhananov, Gleb Aleinikov, Alexander Dulerain or myself, are actively taking part in the filmmaking process. This is not a club of film buffs from somewhere in the sticks, but a community of people who are involved in making films, who have a certain understanding of cinema and are willing to promote it.”

Although there are some other clubs focused on film screenings and discussions in Moscow and other Russian cities, CINE FANTOM is probably the oldest and best known institution of this kind. “True, there are other places in Moscow where movies are screened and discussed, like Praktika or Art-Kino,” says Selivestrov. “But we are the oldest club of this kind and I think that we established the tradition of watching and discussing movies.”

Founded in 1995 by people mostly associated with the “parallel cinema” underground movement of the late 1980s, the club originally had its sessions at the cinema museum, which has since closed down. The title of a Samizdat film magazine edited by Igor Aleinikov back in the mid-1980s was used as the club’s name.

In 2004, CINE FANTOM moved to the Fitil cinema near Park Kultury metro station where films are screened every Wednesday at 8pm. At the same time, the club acquired a newspaper and a more informative web site. The selection of movies for screening has also evolved, but so has the country’s entire film industry.

“With moving to Fitil, the club certainly improved,” Aleinikov says. “When we were at the cinema museum, we didn’t have our own publication, just leaflets, and our website was not as comprehensive as it is now. As for the content of our screening, we depend on what is going on in the film industry, and this is something we don’t have any control of.”

“The times change and so does what we are screening,” adds Selivestrov. “Back in 1995, Russian cinema hardly existed at all, and what did exist, was marginal. These days, on the contrary, we have a huge amount of films, a lot of which is quite interesting.”

Gleb Aleinikov and Boris Yuhananov at the Cinemafontom club presentation in Rotterdam

And although the club’s focus is primarily on domestic cinema, foreign films also make it to its screenings. “We pay a lot of interest to programs of foreign films, as well,” says Aleinikov. “It is important to know the international context to be able to see in what way domestic cinema relates to it.”

At the same time, the club has taken part in several foreign festivals, presenting programs of Russian underground cinema.

The list of directors whose movies were screened at CINE FANTOM is quite diverse, from emerging directors like Ilya Khrzhanovsky and Alexei German Jr. to underground cinema producer Yevgeny Yufit, from internationally recognized art cinema director Alexander Sokurov to Troma Films’ founder Lloyd Kaufman.

The founders of CINE FANTOM stress that they are not focused entirely on underground or non-commercial cinema and rather aim to encompass various areas of contemporary Russian and international film. For instance, Russia’s most expensive movie to date, Obitayemy Ostrov (The Inhabited Island) by Fyodor Bondarchuk, was screened at CINE FANTOM, presented by its producer Alexander Rodnyansky.

“Over the years, the club has gained a reputation in the industry, and it’s not a problem for us to invite, for instance, producers like Rodnyansky or [Sergei] Selyanov and their films,” Aleinikov says. “And they are also interested in their films being screened and discussed at CINE FANTOM because they get unbiased opinions this way.”

“Our approach is totally universal,” says Selivestrov. “We don’t make a division between commercial and noncommercial cinema, but love both.”

CINE FANTOM, is strictly nonprofit. “From the very outset, we stated it clearly that the club is not meant to make money but to spend it,” explains Selivestrov. “We have a board of founders which invests money into the development of the club.”

In recent years, CINE FANTOM’s activities have diversified quite substantially. The club is participating in the Moscow International Film Festival with the program Alternativa (Alternative), which features films that would normally have remained outside of the domestic filmmaking process. For instance, this year’s Alternativa featured films made by St. Petersburg based rock band NOM, which have been popular with the band’s fans but were never really introduced to larger audiences interested in cinema.

Another direction, in which CINE FANTOM has recently been active in, is the organization of pitching sessions that allow filmmakers to present projects they are working on or intend to, in a bid to find funding or other kind of support. “We held two pitching sessions within the Moscow International Film Festival and figured out that they were interesting both on the commercial and creative side,” says Selivestrov. “In a way, this is some kind of a show: people talking about films they would like to make, and that’s interesting as well.”

Gleb Aleinikov at a pressconference in Rotterdam

Boris Yuhananov and Alexander Dulerayn during the “Esfir” film discussion at Cinefantom club

“This is something new in this country and we are glad that we were among the first to introduce this practice here,” Selivestrov adds. “There are others who are doing that and we also plan to continue.”

And, ultimately, CINE FANTOM is launching its own film production. Its first movie, Mozg (Brain), directed by Selivestrov, is to be released within the next few months, while the founders say they are planning to launch a few more movies next year.

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